Back in 1966, when the Lovin' Spoonful sang "There's thirteen-hundred-and-fifty-two guitar pickers in Nashville," 1,352 seemed like a pretty big number. But today there are nearly that many guitarists on my street, and most of them can play "twice as better than I will." So if you live here in six-string ground zero, it's extremely likely you have a guitar player on your gift list. Strings and picks are always useful, but if you really want to make an impact, have we got the gift for you. It's locally made...it sounds awesome...and it's built by a 7-year-old. (He'll be 8 on Nov 27.)
Izzy Swart, son of bassist Frank Swart (Patty Griffin, Norah Jones), is the precocious mind behind the Fizz, a fuzz-pedal joyride that can take you from Jack White and The Black Keys all the way back to Norman Greenbaum's "Spirit in the Sky" in the blink of an eye.
Izzy constructs the pedals from kits he buys, and does all of the assembly and soldering himself. "I think the thing that started it was this electronic kit that my dad's friend gave me," he says. "Then I taught myself to read schematics from books and stuff."
Izzy cites local guitarist and master amp repairman Todd Sharp as his mentor, and even had a tête-à-tête with eccentric inventor Ray Kurzweil—the man behind the renowned synthesizers and a controversial figure in the fields of futurism and artificial intelligence—while on a trip to Boston with his father.
So does he see a future in guitar pedals? "No I'd like to go more into digital technology," Izzy says. "It will allow me to do more complicated stuff like building computers, making robots and that sort of stuff. And trying to learn how to teleport people—I think I've figured out the basics for teleportation."
And this from a kid who's never seen Star Trek or Star Wars. In fact, he was home-schooled and raised in a house with no TV. "He's a voracious reader," Frank says. "I understand about half of what he talks about."
So get your Fizz pedal now, before Izzy moves on to bigger and better things. It's good enough for Nashville guitar heavyweight Kenny Vaughan, who bought the first production model. (Not to mention that Frank used it on his bass on the new Norah Jones single "Chasing Pirates.") It'll set you back a mere Benjamin, which by boutique pedal standards is a bargain. After all, Izzy's not out to get rich: "I'm just trying to save up to buy two Lego Mindstorms," he says, "so I can build my own robot." For information, email email@example.com.
A few other gift ideas for the guitarist near to your heart:
Long Hollow Leather Guitar Straps: Made in Franklin, these hand-tooled guitar straps are available in a variety of styles and colors, and start at $25. Corner Music, 2705 12th Ave. S.
Lower Broad Caster Guitars: Built locally by Phil Jones—a master luthier who used to run the Gibson custom shop—these Strat- and Tele-style guitars go for $1,600-$1,700, which is quite reasonable for a hand-built guitar (particularly when you consider some of his custom creations have sold for 10 times that much). Rock Block Guitars, 2113 Elliston Place
Couch Guitar Straps: For the vegan guitar player in your life, Couch Guitar Straps use no animal product (a.k.a. leather) and start at $19. Many are constructed from vintage deadstock vinyl and cloth originally made for car interiors and seatbelts—for instance, the " '80s Mercedes" and "Mustang Trunk Liner" straps. Fanny's House of Music, 1101 Holly St.
Smokey Amplifiers: What could be cooler than a guitar amplifier built into a cigarette pack? Answer: Nothing! Though equipped with a tiny speaker, these surprisingly insidious little suckers can power a Marshall 4x12 cabinet—and for $32-$34. Corner Music
Little Johnny Kantreed Cigar Box Guitars: For $100, these three-string slide guitars—made from actual cigar boxes—have enough down-and-dirty mojo to transform your giftee's living room into a Mississippi juke joint. Fanny's House of Music
Pikcard Picks: A piece of plastic the size of a credit card contains four guitar picks that you punch out along the perforation. Stick one in your wallet and never be stuck at a gig pickless again. $5. Corner Music
Kid's Rock! In addition to providing regular one-on-one instrument lessons, Fanny's will place your budding rock star in a band with other kids, where they'll all learn how to play a song or two in a full-band setting. The six-week program (one hour each week) costs $150. Forget Rock Band and Guitar Hero—this is the real thing. Fanny's House of Music